Dr Manny's Notes

Dr. Manny: The problem with one Central Florida college’s sonography training

Medicine tests of the fetus

Who really monitors the quality of some of these health care professional training colleges? I don’t know. It seems that the business of higher education— especially in the health care field— continues to grow, and I think sometimes we have to question the quality of those programs.

A recent story that was brought to my attention highlights, in my opinion, a big problem— especially when it comes to ethics, overall education, and the proper way that young men and women who want to serve as our future health care professionals need to be trained.

Two former female sonography students at Valencia College in Central Florida say they were forced to perform internal vaginal probes on one another as part of their training to become sonographers. The students, named only Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II, allege in their lawsuit against the college and three of its professors that they believed participating in vaginal ultrasounds were voluntary based on their student orientation. But, when they tried to resist participation during class, their professors threatened to lower their grades and blacklist them in the health care industry.

They also allege that Barbara Ball, the chair of the college’s sonography program, told one of the students that she was “sexy” and would make a good “escort girl”— during the training procedure. The students are in the midst of a lawsuit against Valencia College for unspecified damages, including tuition reimbursement, resulting from psychological stress.

While the school announced Wednesday that it would discontinue its practice of using student volunteers for transvaginal ultrasound scanning, it has also said using student volunteers for medical sonography training is a standard, accepted practice across the nation.

However, here’s why I totally agree with the plaintiffs in the case and believe they are in the right. To be forced, coerced and threatened to perform or undergo a vaginal ultrasound is, ultimately, highly inappropriate.

The role of an ultrasound school is to educate future health care professionals on the principles of ultrasounds, the physics and limitations of ultrasounds, and to identify areas where ultrasound is of valuable use. However, the practical aspect of diagnostic ultrasound is learned in a proper clinical setting, wherein these young men and women rotate through elective rotations with actual physicians and certified sonography technicians, learning the different applications and interpretations of ultrasounds— and, importantly, voluntary means. That clearly was not the case here.

To force young women into performing vaginal probes in the classroom with alleged inappropriate comments has no role in health care education – or anywhere, for that matter.

I am glad that this Central Florida college has decided to cease the practice for good. Vaginal ultrasound can be a very uncomfortable procedure and should not be taken lightly. And, as with diagnostic procedure, what it entails should be explained in full, and it should be with a voluntary participation from the individual that you’re performing this test on.

To have coerced or threatened these students was wrong— and, due to negligence from the teachers, ultimately jeopardizes the education of all the other students they have trained under this unethical protocol.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.